Eyes On The Street: Weinstein Case Brings Even More Placard Abuse to Lower Manhattan

Press parked illegally in Foley Square. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Press parked illegally in Foley Square. Photo: Julianne Cuba

The jury is still out in the Harvey Weinstein case — but the verdict is in on the press: guilty of placard abuse on all counts!

Reporters and camera crews covering the trial of the Hollywood producer and sexual predator have become some of the biggest culprits of illegal parking near the supposed houses of justice in Manhattan — an already disastrous area for road users, where police and court workers park with impunity in bike lanes, on the sidewalk, and in front of crosswalks merely by sticking a placard, fake or not, in their dashboard.

But because of the high-profile court case that’s nearing its end, more than a dozen news station vehicles — all bearing “NYP” license plates that are doled out by the state Department of Motor Vehicles to police-credentialed members of the city press corps (a benefit that, of course, makes placard-holding reporters less likely to cover placard abuse) — have turned the public plaza near Foley Square into a parking lot.

“Drivers are continuing to steal pedestrian plazas, sidewalks and bike lanes all over our city with no repercussions,” said Armenoush Aslanian-Persico. “These are public spaces not intended for vehicles. This is dangerous, especially for our most vulnerable neighbors, and an insult to everyone who worked hard to create these spaces.”

This week, Streetsblog spotted vehicles from many media outlets parked in Thomas Paine Park — which the Parks Department confirmed is not allowed. The cars blocked access and created an ugly backdrop for the park’s main feature, “Triumph of the Human Spirit,” a monumental sculpture by Lorenzo Pace that honors the endurance and struggle of victims of oppression buried in the nearby African Burial Ground (perhaps the only reason drivers haven’t parked on the sacred dead is simply because the public cannot access the burial ground by car.)

Many of the cars in Thomas Paine Park lacked identifying iconography, but Streetsblog spotted vehicles from NY1, Fox News, CBS2, Telemundo, NBC, PIX11 and ABC on the park-cum-parking lot.

Streetsblog checked all of the NYP vehicles that were parked on Thomas Paine Park and adjacent Lafayette Street on both Tuesday and Wednesday discovered the following:

  • Of the 30 cars, 25 vehicles — or 83 percent — had been ticketed at least once, including three with 48, 54, and 66 tickets. 
  • 16 cars — or 53 percent — had been hit with at least very serious summons for speeding or running a red light.
  • 14 vehicles — or 46 percent — had been hit with two or more very serious summons for speeding or running a red light.

And area workers and residents are frustrated.

“Ideally, this would be an open public plaza, said tour guide, Josh Rogol. “But it’s inevitable: cops park on sidewalks all the time.”

One Lower Manhattan local was offended that people had parked in a public plaza meant to honor those buried nearby.

“It’s disrespectful,” said Shanda Campbell. “They should respect us and our ancestors.”

NY1, Fox News and CBS2, which has a long-documented bias in favor of drivers, declined to comment.

A Fox News car with a PBA business card and notebook in its dash. Photo: Julianne Cuba
A Fox News car with a PBA business card and notebook in its dash. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Court officials created the temporary parking area on the plaza because of intense media interest in the Weinstein case, but the root of the problem is the existence of special “NYP” plates for reporters, who can obtain them simply by applying and paying $60 to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

NYP plates allow drivers to park in specially designated press zones, but, like cops and firefighters, members of the press frequently park outside the legal zones — and are rarely ticketed for it. Few mainstream reporters take on the issue of placard abuse, which allows the situation to fester like the old boy’s club it sort of is.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled a package of nine bills in November that he said would finally curb the problem. In early January, the city supposedly kicked off its latest crackdown, which includes putting the Department of Investigation in charge of making sure the NYPD is actually writing tickets. City officials said 50 hotspots would be targetted over the next six months — and 311 is now required to accept complaints and photographs related to illegal parking.

Streetsblog has previously reported what happens — nothing! — when someone calls 311 about an illegally parked car, and it doesn’t seem like that is about to change now, especially given that the current crop of offenders are the very reporters who could be reporting on the crisis.

Plus, the weeks-long trial is only exacerbating what’s already a huge problem — the streets of Lower Manhattan are a chaotic mess every day thanks to illegal placard parking. Specifically, Lafayette Street, which has a buffered bike lane next to a line of parked cars, has become simply three rows of parking (the existing parking for NYP and other entitled drivers, the cars that park on the bike lane, and the cars that park on the buffer). Meanwhile, Centre Street, one block to the east, is just filled with double-parked cars — a dangerous practice that forces cyclists into traffic, where they can be hit by car drivers.

What better place to chat than in the bike lane? Photo: Julianne Cuba
What better place to stop for a chat than in the bike lane? Photo: Julianne Cuba

But Johnson again had little more to offer now than encouraging advocates to continuing reporting illegal parking, and said ending rampant placard abuse that had gone unchecked for years will take time.

“I encourage all New Yorkers enraged by placard abuse to take advantage of the photo reporting option our bill requires and let 311 know where this is happening,” he said. “I expect DOI and the NYPD to take that information into consideration when identifying hotspots and stepping up enforcement. Ending placard abuse won’t happen overnight, but we won’t let up until it happens.”

The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment.

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